San Jose Sharks: Free Agent Update

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IJuly 3, 2009

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 09:  Ryane Clowe #29 of the San Jose Sharks leans in for a face off during game one of the 2008 NHL conference quarter-final series against the Calgary Flamesat HP Pavilion on April 9, 2008 in San Jose, California.  The Flames defeated the Sharks 3-2 to take 1-0 series lead. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

With the NHL salary cap destined to take a significant decrease after the 2009-2010 season, Sharks GM Doug Wilson has been wise not to over-pay for big-name free agents during the first few days of free-agency.

Players like Marian Gaborik, Martin Havlat, and Marian Hossa have all inked expensive long-term deals with new clubs.

To be fair, the Sharks already have a core of top tier players, so one may not think it would be difficult to avoid over-paying for a free-agent. However, it would have been completely justifiable if Doug Wilson were to have made a big splash during the first couple days of the free-agency period.

His team finished the regular season with the best record in the NHL and yet failed to get past the first round of the playoffs. Nobody would be surprised if a major shake-up were imminent.

But with players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau still under contract, holding back from making any rash decisions during free-agency may in fact help the Sharks in the long-run.

Currently, Wilson has yet to ink a single new player during free-agency but has made smart decisions regarding his team's free-agents.

In the first three days of July, Wilson has parted ways with aging right-wing Mike Grier, veteran goal-tender Brian Boucher, disappointing forwards Marcel Goc and Tomas Plihal, and the experiment that was Claude Lemieux is over.

Neither one of the aforementioned players were significant contributors to the franchise best regular season that was 2008-09.

Despite being a quality penalty killer and third-line right wing, Mike Grier was often injured this past season and seemed to age five years when it came to the playoffs. Not resigning him will give younger, faster players a chance to compete for a roster spot.

Last year's backup net-minder Brian Boucher filled in nicely when Evgeni Nabokov was fighting a lingering groin problem but the 32-year-old goaltender is just not of the talent to push Nabokov for a starting position.

With the 34-year-old Nabokov on the last year of his contract, signing a more established goal-tender or a hot-young prospect to push Nabokov for playing time is a much better solution.

Marcel Goc and Tomas Plihal were both drafted back in 2001, with Goc in the first round and Plihal in the fifth, but neither one lived up to their potential. Either free-agent acquisitions or call-ups from Worcester will be better fits on the bottom two forward lines than keeping Goc or Plihal.

When it comes to Claude Lemieux, well, how bout we just chalk that one down as a mistake and move on.

Not only has Wilson parted ways with some of his free-agents but he has also re-signed those who actually have the ability to make a difference next season.

The Sharks have re-signed forward Ryane Clowe to a four-year deal worth 3.5 million per season, and re-signed defenseman Kent Huskins to a two-year deal.

Clowe posted career numbers last year, playing in 71 games and putting up 22 goals, and 30 assists for 52 points.

Kent Huskins has yet to play a game for the Sharks after being traded from Anaheim along with Travis Moen last season but in his last full season with the Ducks in '07-08, posted 19 points and a plus/minus of 23.

Both players look to be a big part of the Sharks success next season.

Despite Wilson keeping two quality free-agents from leaving San Jose, he still has a couple of decisions to make regarding former Sharks.

Travis Moen provided solid two-way play and penalty killing in his short stint with San Jose and whether or not Wilson can snatch up bigger scoring threat in free-agency will determine whether he wants to re-sign the former Duck.

But the more intriguing decisions Doug Wilson has to make deal with both defenseman Alexei Semenov and forward Jeremy Roenick who are free to sign with whomever they wish.

However, Roenick has no other team on his mind than San Jose and will either return to the Sharks or retire. If Roenick decides that he wants to come back, Wilson should be smart enough to make it clear that JR will be playing for the league minimum and be used only when needed.

Roenick missed significant time with injuries last season and it is important for the Sharks that if he does comeback that he is fresh and healthy for the playoffs.

After Roenick, the last Sharks free-agent that Wilson needs to make a decision on is Alexei Semenov.

Although Semenov has been in the dog-house of the majority of Sharks fans ever since he came to San Jose back in 2007, he actually filled in quite nicely this past season as a seventh defenseman.

Semenov is a quality seventh defenseman but not good enough for other teams to really want to pick him up as a free-agent. Therefore if Semenov can play as well this upcoming season as he did last year, he may actually be an asset.

Currently Semenov is eighth on the depth chart after Huskins' resigning but keeping both of them would make room for Doug Wilson to trade the much maligned Christian Ehrhoff who finished a minus-12 last season.

But enough with players who were already in teal last season, it is vital that Sharks GM Doug Wilson act fast before all the quality secondary scoring forwards are snatched up in free-agency.

Wingers that would have fit well in the Sharks' system like Erik Cole and Mikael Samuelsson have already been snatched up.

Cole resigned with the Carolina Hurricanes, and Samuelsson has signed with Vancouver, most likely filling in the right wing spot on a line with the Sedin twins.

Perhaps the Sharks GM has his eyes on adding scoring depth through trading Christian Ehrhoff or even Evgeni Nabokov but there are also still a few talented free-agents out there.

Both long-time Buffalo Sabres Maxim Afinogenov and Alex Kotalik are still available.

Afinogenov has suffered with numerous injuries over the last couple seasons that saw his production drop tremendously. In just 48 games, Afinogenov tallied just 20 points last season and just 28 points in 56 games two years ago.

However, the former third round pick put up 61 points and 73 points in 2005-06 and 2006-07. The scoring ability is clearly there and his injury issues may enable the Sharks to nab him on the cheap.

Ales Kotalik also has the ability to score, as the former Sabre has scored 20 goals or more in four of his six full seasons at the NHL level. Last season Kotalik split time with the Sabres and Oilers, putting up 20 goals and 43 points. His ability to put the puck in the net could be huge for added depth the Sharks are looking for.

Only time will tell whether or not Doug Wilson is interested in these types of free-agent scorers or if he is going to find scoring depth through a trade.

Sharks fans will just have to wait and see.


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